Tasmanian bypass has massive significance

Apr 26, 2010 ABC News


The final report on the archaeology dig at the Brighton bypass has confirmed the site contains the oldest evidence of human habitation in the southern hemisphere. (Robert Paton)
Source: ABC News

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Archaeologists have confirmed an Aboriginal site in the path of a major Tasmanian highway contains the oldest evidence of human habitation in the southern hemisphere.

About 3 million Indigenous artifacts were discovered at the Jordan River levee north of Hobart.

The State Government commissioned archaeologists to examine the site after the Aboriginal community raised concerns that construction of the Brighton bypass could damage it.

The site's archaeological director, Rob Paton, says the final report on the dig confirms some artefacts are about 40,000 years old.

"They're stone artefacts, they're used for day to day living, cutting and sharpening. It's that day-to-day stuff that really is rarely found," he said.

"That's why to get a snapshot of what life was like 40,000 years ago is really quite unique, not just for Australia but for hunter-gatherer sites anywhere in the world."

Tasmania's Department of Infrastructure insists the site will be protected.

Department Secretary Norm McIlfatrick is confident a bridge over the site is sufficient.

"Our view is, and has always been, that we won't carry out any work on that site until we have a full permit from the Minister for Heritage," he said.

"Now that Minister will receive the report from us and our management plan and will also have the view of the community before he makes the decision."

He is standing by the government's preferred option of building a bridge over the site.

"Most of the heritage, or all of the heritage that we're aware of, that is significant is under the ground."

Nala Mansell-McKenna from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre maintains that the bypass must be re-routed.

"Building a bridge across it, removing the artefacts, is definitely not an option," she said.

The archaeologists' report will be considered by new Heritage Minister David O'Byrne.

Roadworks dig finds millions of Aboriginal artefacts

Mar 10, 2010 ABC News

Archaeologists conduct a dig at the Brighton bypass in southern Tasmania. (Rob Paton)

Archaeologists say they may have found proof of the oldest and most southerly human habitation in the world at the site of a major road project in Tasmania.

Archaeologists and Aboriginal heritage officers have been removing sediment from eight trenches along the Jordan River levee at the Brighton roadworks site, north of Hobart.

Initial findings suggest the sediment is between 28,000 and 40,000 years old, making it the oldest, most southern site of human habitation in the world.

It is believed up to 3,000,000 artefacts could be buried there.

Dozens of protesters have been arrested and 19 people have been charged over protests aimed at trying to stop the roadwork in recent months.

Fiona Newson from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Land and Sea Council says the Tasmanian Goverment needs to take the latest report from archaeologists seriously.

"We're talking about a worldwide significant site in regards to the scientific values and heritage values," she said.

"It would be a total waste and not a good look on Tasmania if they were going to destroy it."

With the State Government in caretaker mode, Infrastucture Minister Graeme Sturges has been cautious in his response.

"We will certainly follow the required process and we will acknowledge and respect the findings of the report," he said.

"Bear in mind we're to receive the final report in about a week and we will follow due process in regard to this matter."

World heritage push

The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre's Michael Mansell says the site is tremendously significant and wants it put on the World Heritage List.

"The bottom line is that nothing must go within a bull's roar of the site," he said.

"I don't think there's any doubt that the Federal Government has to be involved anyway because there's a strong belief that this area should now be declared a world heritage listed place."

Mr Mansell says Aborigines want the Premier to apologise for the treatment of protesters at the Brighton bypass site.

"I think in the circumstances the Premier owes an apology to those Aboriginal people who always said, 'What is there is terribly significant and must be preserved at all costs'," he said.

"An apology I don't think would be astray."

Archaeologists working on the project hope the site will be protected.

Head archaeologist Robert Paton is excited by the preliminary findings.

"The dates that we've got so far, the readings, they've been nice and statistically tight, and that suggests to me they're probably correct," he said.

"To have the opportunity to work on that site with the Aboriginal community, it's been a pretty exciting time for everyone."

Artefacts are 40,000 years old

Damien Brown The Mercury April 27, 2010

Aartefacts found in the path of the multi-million-dollar Brighton bypass have been confirmed as being 40,000 years old.

It makes them some of the oldest in the world.

The results of tests on food scraps, bone fragments and stone tools found along the site of the $176 million bypass, north of Hobart, were released yesterday after more than a month of extensive examination interstate.

The findings will put added strain on an already fractious relationship between the State Government and the Tasmanian Aboriginal community.

Another strain may come within the Government's ranks with the new power-sharing partnership between Labor and the Greens also having to find common ground.

Before the state election, Labor vowed it would work with the Aboriginal community but would not stop work on the bypass.

The Greens said they wanted work to stop until a solution was found.

The decision will ultimately rest with the new Heritage Minister David O'Byrne.

The discovery of the remains will now give the scientific world a unique glimpse of a previously unknown period of human occupation this far south on the planet.

The remains found in the Jordan River valley section of the bypass forced the Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources back to the drawing board last month with DIER secretary Norm McIlfatrick still confident a compromise could be reached between the Government and the Aboriginal community.

The plans have been redrawn to include a 70m elevated bridge span over the site, costing an extra $10 million to $15 million.

However, Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre spokeswoman Nala Mansell-McKenna said it was time for the Government to reroute the bypass to protect the ancient Aboriginal heritage.

This would potentially add hundreds of millions of dollars to the bypass cost and blow out its completion date by up to two years.

"If the Tasmanian Government still refuses to protect the area, we will be forced to go through other more powerful avenues and do whatever it takes to ensure this area is protected," Ms Mansell-McKenna said.